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In the Kitchen With Ricky: Celebrate National Bacon Day with rumaki

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 27, 2021

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

“What in the heck is that?” you might be asking yourself. Well, when I heard that National Bacon Day is Dec. 30, I had to sit and think about a dish where the bacon stood out, yet showcased a different approach to this ever-so-popular meat that is an obsession for many people. I quickly thought about the preparation I’m sharing with you today: rumaki.

Up until my early 20s, this dish was served at every holiday gathering hosted by my Italian grandmother. She was a big fan of Asian food and took classes on classic Chinese cooking preparation in San Francisco. This dish possibly has Chinese (by way of Hawaii) roots, according to Trader Vic’s founder Victor Bergeron, but falls into the tiki cuisine category.

America became fascinated with tiki culture, and restaurants and bars began popping up in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s. There is a bit of controversy as to whom should be credited for the creation of this yummy snack. Is it Trader Vic’s in Oakland, California, or Don the Beachcomber in Palm Springs just to the east in the state?

It appeared on both menus as early as 1940 and clearly took inspiration from the popular English bar snack Angels on Horseback, which is bacon-wrapped oysters. Whoever created it, this dish has made a name for itself in American culture, and it has appeared and/or been mentioned in TV series including “Mad Men,” “The Golden Girls” and “Rugrats.”

I am sharing rumaki the way my grandmother made it since I can remember, but this popular hors d’oeuvre would have traditionally been made by skewering together water chestnuts and chicken livers, then wrapping them in bacon and marinading in a sweet gingery soy base. We are foregoing the livers as grandma does (although after researching this, I may have to try it).

And we’re keeping it even simpler by using a bottled teriyaki sauce, but feel free to use a favorite teriyaki sauce recipe you may have. Another fresh take on this, or if you can’t seem to find whole water chestnuts, would be to wrap 1-inch chunks of fresh pineapple or jicama and follow the same instructions below.

Rumaki

2 cans (8 ounces each) whole water chestnuts

1 pound bacon

1 20-ounce bottle teriyaki sauce

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground white or black pepper

¼ cup water

Open and drain both cans of water chestnuts, making sure they are drained well.

Cut the bacon in half down the center so that you end up with 4- to 5-inch strips. You will use half a piece of bacon per rumaki.

Mix all the other ingredients for the marinade by whisking together in a large container. Keep in mind you want all the rumaki to fit into this container so that it can marinate in the fridge.

Roll the water chestnuts in the strips of bacon, making sure to cover up as much of the water chestnut as possible.

Fasten the bacon in place by inserting a toothpick all the way through the bacon and water chestnuts and place into the marinade.

Marinate the rumaki for 1-2 hours minimum and up to overnight.

When you’re ready to make the rumaki, preheat an oven to low broil (if you have that setting, or 450 degrees).

If broiling, move the rack down to the middle spot of the oven, as you don’t want them to brown too quickly.

Cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the bacon begins to render and crisp, and the rumaki is golden and sizzling.

Feel free to cook until the desired doneness of the bacon is achieved.

Serve as is on a platter, or sprinkle with thinly sliced scallions or toasted sesame seeds.

Yield: Makes about 30 pieces; serves 8 to 10 as an appetizer

Local award-winning chef and Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster can be reached at ricky@rindandwheat.com. Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.

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